1. On 24 March 2011, the Attorney-General of Australia, the Hon Robert McClelland MP, asked the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) to inquire into and report on the framework for the classification of media content in Australia. The ALRC was asked to conduct widespread public consultation across the community and industry and to provide its final Report by 30 January 2012.
2. This Issues Paper has been released to form a basis for consultation. The paper is intended to encourage informed community participation in the Inquiry by providing some background information and highlighting the issues so far identified by the ALRC as relevant. The Issues Paper may be downloaded free of charge from the ALRC’s website, www.alrc.gov.au.
3. The Issues Paper will be followed by the publication of a Discussion Paper later in 2011. The Discussion Paper will contain a more detailed treatment of the issues, and will indicate the ALRC’s current thinking in the form of specific proposals for reform. The ALRC will then seek further submissions and undertake a further round of national consultations in relation to these proposals before preparing its final Report by 30 January 2012.
Request for submissions
4. The ALRC invites individuals and organisations to make submissions in response to specific questions, or to any of the background material and analysis provided.
5. There is no specified format for submissions, although the questions provided in this document are intended to provide guidance for respondents. The ALRC welcomes submissions, which may be made in writing, by email or using the ALRC’s online submission form. Submissions made using the online submission form are preferred. Generally, submissions will be published on the ALRC website, unless marked confidential. In the absence of a clear indication that a submission is intended to be confidential, the ALRC will treat the submission as non-confidential.
Submissions using the ALRC’s online submission form can be made at: http://www.alrc.gov.au/inquiries/classification/respond-issues-papers.
In order to inform the content of the Discussion Paper, submissions addressing the questions in this Issues Paper should reach the ALRC by 15 July 2011.
6. There are several recent and concurrent public consultations and reviews covering matters related to the ALRC Inquiry. Recent consultations and reviews include:
the Attorney-General’s Department’s public consultation on an R 18+ classification for computer games; and
the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE) review of measures to increase accountability and transparency for Refused Classification (RC) material.
7. Current inquiries relevant to the ALRC Inquiry include:
The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee inquiry into the Australian film and literature classification scheme (due to report 30 June 2011).
The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs inquiry into the regulation of billboard and outdoor advertising.
The Convergence Review examining Australia’s communications and media legislation and advising the Government on potential amendments to keep this regulatory framework effective and appropriate for the new environment (due to report in the first quarter of 2012). The Convergence Review incorporates a statutory review of the operation of sch 7 of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (Cth) and whether the schedule should be amended or repealed.
Approach to the Inquiry
8. The potential scope of the Inquiry is broad. In addition to considering the classification of publications, films and computer games under the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 (Cth) (Classification Act), the ALRC will also examine schs 5 and 7 of the Broadcasting Services Act and the need for a classification framework that accommodates online content.
9. To ensure that the work of related recent and current inquiries is not duplicated and that the Inquiry is completed on time, it is important to identify from the outset the matters on which the Inquiry should focus.
10. The ALRC will focus on developing recommendations for a new or reformed classification system, rather than on detailed evaluation of the existing system. Criticism of, and support for, aspects of the existing system are documented extensively in the literature and in submissions to recent and current inquiries.
11. The focus of the ALRC—as indicated by the Terms of Reference—will be on the framework for classifying content given the existing classification categories. Therefore, any consideration by the ALRC of the specific content that should be permitted or prohibited under each of the classification categories will necessarily be at a high level of generality, to complement broader research or consultation on prevailing community standards.
12. Finally, the ALRC does not intend to duplicate the Government’s extensive consideration of a system for mandatory filtering of online content. However, the Inquiry will consider how a national classification scheme could operate better in the online environment.
13. The ALRC is interested in comment on the general approach it should take to the Inquiry.
Question 1. In this Inquiry, should the ALRC focus on developing a new framework for classification, or improving key elements of the existing framework?
 See Australian Government Attorney-General’s Department, Final Report on the Public Consultation on the Possible Introduction of an R18+ Classification for Computer Games (2010).
 Department of Broadband Communications and the Digital Economy, Mandatory Internet Service Provider (ISP) Filtering: Measures to Increase Accountability and Transparency for Refused Classification Material (Consultation Paper) (2009).
 See Department of Broadband Communications and the Digital Economy, Convergence Review Framing Paper (2011).
 As required by Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (Cth) sch 7, s 118.